Terms of Engagement: Stories of the Father and Son is fiction. No characters or events represent me. Nor my father. As personalities, these characters are not fictional to me. Much of what hurts and haunts them is drawn from my experience as a son.
The stories’ protagonists are named Kenneth (son), Trent (father), Teddy (son), David (son), Adam (father), Davis (son), Ed (father), John (son/father). All have in common a father/son relationship that hurts and haunts them. All have in common a need or desire or something that propels them to stay with this relationship, despite its harmful impact on who they are, and what they think of themselves.
Each of these main characters would, if they could, connect to their respective father or son. They don’t seem to be able to.
These characters’ hurt and haunting reflects my experience with my father. So does their inability to connect.
Elif Batuman, a writer of literary fiction, and whose audiobook I directed, said literature has the power to render comprehensible different kinds of unhappiness. As a writer, that feels like my enterprise with this collection.
In his book, Under Saturn’s Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men, Dr. James Hollis writes, “The fragile psyche of man has been brutalized and trivialized. Historically, he has been conditioned to procreate and protect his brood, and to be defined by his productivity. All that says little or nothing about his soul, his personhood, his uniqueness. In such a world men…cannot achieve serenity, seldom operate out of inner conviction…” The writer, J. M. Coetzee, suggests by way of one of his characters in Slow Man, “Those into whose lives you are born do not pass away.”
All to say, men may be understood as not having it so easy, including the fathers and sons who inhabit the collection’s stories.